Yeah, this issue steps "Dark Reign: Zodiac" to the status of best-of-the-"Dark-Reign"-spin-offs. No doubt about it.
I liked the first issue -- particularly Nathan Fox's manic, off-kilter artwork -- but I felt like it was just setting things up, and setting them up in a way that I'd seen before. Crazy bad guy -- half Joker, half Scarecrow (with his costume choices, at least) -- assembling his team and causing some havoc in the Marvel U. Issue #2 shows that Joe Casey and Nathan Fox aren't telling the same old story. Or, if they are, they're telling it in a way that feels fresh and outrageous, full of nasty fun.
Before I get into some specifics from the issue, take a look at that cover image. I didn't look very closely at the cover before I read the issue, but once I closed the book, I realized just how genius that cover image is. Besides the content-specific doodles in the background -- with a Norman Osborn skull impaled on the Watchtower and a space Pac-Man ready to chomp the Earth -- we also get Zodiac playing a game of "Marvel Mousetrap" with little Normie under the impending doom of a falling Galactus helmet. It isn't just a cool image. It lets you know about some specific plot points from this very issue.
Because Galactus looms in this issue. And Norman Osborn rallies his operatives to deal with the situation.
That's right: this comic about a maniac who beat up on the unconscious Johnny Storm and generally walks around like the Marvel equivalent of Mr. Nobody also includes an attack on the planet by the devourer of worlds himself. Sort of. You'll have to read the issue yourself to find out what the Galactus situation is really about, but I can tell you that the final page features a character that you never expected to see in a Dark Reign comic. It's a deranged twist. And it's a lot of fun to read.
This issue also features some implicit (censored for your protection) sexuality between Zodiac and Death Reaper (the supervillain groupie/supervillainess). And some appropriately awkward banter between Clint Barton and Hank Pym as they attend to the comatose Johnny Storm in the hospital. But it's largely a Norman Osborn centric issue, and Casey writes his sociopathic arrogance as well as anyone. "A true leader," says Osborn, "confronts this physical universe of perpetual struggle and he dominates. That's the lesson I learned when the Skrull queen lay dead at my feet." Norman Osborn, as charming as ever.
"Dark Reign: Zodiac" #2 is probably the most Dark Reign fun you'll have all summer. Just watch out for that sneak attack at the end.